Maintenance is the fifth and final stage in this series of blogs about providing help for women that is appropriate to her stage of coping with being abused and controlled by a male partner. Dienneman and her colleagues (2007) call this stage establishing a new life whether the woman stays together with her partner or whether she starts a new life apart.
What goes on for her at this stage
To get to this stage women may have separated from their partner several times, however now they are better able to separate out the negatives from the positives that exist in the relationship. They have greater clarity about their own self-identity. Therefore women feel justified in insisting that their partner change, or feel justified in leaving him regardless of any negative responses from others.
This is a time when women are better able to ask for support from reliable, safe and trustworthy family and friends to help her with her goal – that is a goal aimed at preventing herself from reverting to whatever she felt, thought or did before.
If she chooses to stay
You can help boost her confidence and conviction to monitor her partner for promised changes. You can help her to set boundaries and rules to protect herself from violations such as dishonesty, disrespect, violation of her privacy and restrictions on her freedom. If she stays she has a right to demand safety and to and receive respect, honesty and mutuality from her partner.
If she chooses to leave
Separation abuse is common when a man’s source of social esteem stems from having power and control over his partner. Therefore you can help your woman friend or family member to not tolerate abuse and control. You can help her to avoid him if that is her wish. You can provide her with whatever she needs (such as accommodation) if he stalks her. You can help to remind her of the reasons why she left and help her find her lost self and build her sense of worth and potential.
Ongoing issues whether she stays or leaves
Courage is required to consistently demand that her partner not abuse and control her. Courage is required to consistently do what it takes to stay safe and build a new life. Women may experience fear. Women I know develop subtle ongoing strategies over years in their relationship to reduce harm to themselves. Now, when they start to make strong and adamant changes that put their own wellbeing first, the man could react badly. She could experience worse abuse and control from him. Some men will plead that she revert to her old ways, plead that she return to him, entice her with gifts and promises. However the woman’s goal is to maintain her conviction to be abuse-free and to develop self-sufficiency, self-determination. You can help her to use the criteria of safety to make every decision. That means she will have to take a strong stance such as calling the police every time the man breaches a protection order, or not giving in to demands and maintain her own sense of integrity. Your support would be welcome at this time.
Becoming aware of warning signs
You can help the woman list all the warning signs that could tempt her to listen to her (ex)partner over and above herself. You can help her see warning signs that might make her ignore her gut feelings. Remember he might try to intimidate her to revert to old ways. She might feel very lonely and want to return to him. She might experience pressure from other friends, family or society in general – to return to the relationship and keep the family intact. Help her to combat these pressures.
Ways you can help her deal with ongoing issues
- Stress: You can encourage her to nurture and nourish herself.
- Loss of self: You can help her brainstorm long forgotten dreams and take tiny steps towards one of them. Remind her of her strengths.
- Physical health problems: You can help her improve her diet and exercise. She may need a lot of sleep. Consider helping her with child care, housework or making meals.
- Emotional problems: You can listen and empathise and allow her to talk.
- PTSD: You can help her talk through the nightmarish experiences she’s had – but only if she really wants to do that.
- Grief: You can acknowledge her losses – her dreams of a long happy marriage, her feelings of failure as a wife – don’t make her grief wrong just because her partner abused her.
- Overwhelm: You can help her take one step at a time – if a woman has been abused for years it may take a minimum of 2 years to even begin to make sense of it.
- Burman, Sondra. (2003). Battered women: Stages of change and other treatment models that instigate and sustain leaving. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 3, 83-98.
- Burnett, Lynn Barkley & Adler, Jonathan. (2008). Domestic violence.
- Dienemann, Jacqueline A., Glass, Nancy, Hanson, Ginger & Lunsford, Kathleen. (2007). The domestic violence survivor assessment (DVSA): A tool for individual counselling with women experiencing intimate partner violence. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 28, 913-925.
- Kramer, Alice. (2007). Stages of change: Surviving intimate partner violence during and after pregnancy. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 21, 285-295.